Bassevi of Treuenberg, Jacob ben-Samuel

(1570–1634)
   Court financier in Prague. Bassevi was popularly known as Jacob Schmieles. Along with the prince of Lichtenstein and Wallenstein, chief commander of the Catholic armies, he was a member of a consortium founded in 1622 to gain a monopoly of old silver coins minted in Bohemia, Moravia and Lower Austria. It was a period of extreme financial instability, known as the era of Kipper und Wipper (‘Coin-clippers and Counterfeiters’), brought about by the emperor’s continual need for money to fight the Thirty Years’War (1618–48). For his efforts in the consortium, Bassevi was raised to the nobility, probably the first Jew in Europe outside of Italy to be ennobled. At the same time he was granted freedom to trade in any merchandise and to reside in any locality, singular concessions at a time when the Jews of the Austrian empire were severely restricted as to occupation, and their residence in several cities prohibited. Bassevi himself played an active part in Jewish affairs and in 1623 organized a guard to defend the Jews of Prague.
   With the devaluation resulting from the activities of the consortium, Bassevi became extremely unpopular - the new, lower-value coins were known as schmielesthaler and he was believed to be responsible for the misery caused to the general public by the monetary changes. As a result of his activities, resentment against the Jews greatly increased. A popular woodcut of the 1620s shows the devil, dressed as a Jew, presiding over a group of Jews and gentiles who are melting down coins. Eventually Bassevi fell from favour with the emperor, for reasons unknown. He was arrested in 1631, but released in the following year through the intervention of General Wallenstein. He died in obscurity two years later and all his privileges were rescinded on his death.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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